Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

New disengagement agreement in eastern Ladakh


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Critical passes and valleys along the international borders

Mains level: India-China border tensions

In the first major breakthrough in talks China’s Defence Ministry that PLA and Indian troops on the southern and northern shores of Pangong Tso began synchronized and organized disengagement.

This newscard presents a holistic report on the ground situation of Sino-India border disputes in Ladakh.

Also, try this PYQ from CSP 2020:

Q.Siachen Glacier is situated to the

(a) East of Aksai Chin

(b) East of Leh

(c)North of Gilgit

(d) North of Nubra Valley

New plan in eastern Ladakh

  • As of now, the disengagement process seems restricted to the north and south banks of Pangong Tso.
  • The process has started with the pulling back of certain columns of tanks from the south bank region by both sides.
  • At the moment, there is no pullback of troops from the friction points and the heights they are positioned on.
  • That will happen in a phased and verified manner.

Disengagement from Pangong Tso

  • China will pull its troops on the north bank towards the east of Finger 8.
  • Similarly, India will also position its forces at its permanent base near Finger 3.
  • Similar action will be taken by both the parties in the south bank area as well.
  • Both sides have also agreed that the area between Finger 3 and Finger 8 will become a no-patrolling zone temporarily, till both sides reach an agreement through military and diplomatic discussions to restore patrolling.
  • Further, all the construction done by both sides on the north and south banks of the lake since April 2020 will be removed.

Why is this area important?

  • The north and south banks of Pangong Tso are two of the most significant and sensitive regions when it comes to the current standoff that began in May 2020.
  • What makes the areas around the shores of the lake so sensitive and important is that clashes here marked the beginning of the standoff.
  • It is one of the areas where the Chinese troops had come around 8 km deep west of India’s perception of the Line of Actual Control.
  • China had positioned its troops on the ridgeline connecting Fingers 3 and 4, while according to India the LAC passes through Finger 8.

Take a glimpse of all friction points along Indian borders:

India is at an advantage

  • Further, it is in the south bank of the lake that Indian forces in an action in late August had gained a strategic advantage by occupying certain peaks, outwitting the Chinese.
  • Indian troops had positioned themselves on heights of Magar Hill, Mukhpari, Gurung Hill, Rezang La and Rechin La, which were unoccupied by either side earlier.
  • Since then, the Chinese side had been particularly sensitive as these positions allowed India to not only dominate Spanggur Gap.
  • It is a two-km wide valley that can be used to launch an offensive, as China had done in 1962, they also allow India a direct view of China’s Moldo Garrison.

Why has this taken so long?

  • Since September, China has insisted that India first pull its troops back from the south bank of Pangong Tso, and the Chushul sub-sector.
  • However, India has been demanding that any disengagement process should include the entire region, and troops should go back to their April 2020 positions.
  • However, it seems that for now, both sides have agreed to first disengage from the Pangong Tso area only.

Principles of disengagement

In military and diplomatic discussions with China India expects a solution to the issue on the basis of three principles:

  1. LAC should be accepted and respected by both parties.
  2. Neither party should attempt to change the status quo unilaterally.
  3. All agreements should be fully adhered to by both parties.

Does this mean that the standoff is resolved?

  • There are still some outstanding issues that remain regarding deployment and patrolling on LAC.
  • The Pangong Tso region is just one of the friction areas. There are other friction points, all north of the Pangong Tso, where the troops have been face-to-face since last year.
  • The situation in Depsang Plains continues to be a concern.
  • Both sides agree that complete disengagement under bilateral agreements and protocols should be done as soon as possible.
  • After the talks so far, China is also aware of our resolve to protect the sovereignty of the country.

Need for confidence building

  • Two of the main stumbling blocks in finding a permanent resolution are lack of trust and no clarity on intent.
  • Any permanent resolution will include first, disengagement of troops from the frontlines from all friction points.
  • Then de-escalation will entail sending the troops from the depth areas to their original bases.
  • Both sides have around 50,000 troops in the region, along with additional tanks, artillery and air defence assets.


  • A resolution has to include sending these troops and military equipment where they came from on both sides.
  • But neither side had been willing to take the first step to reduce their troop or military strength, as it does not trust the other side.

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